Saturday, September 22, 2007

When To Start Pointe Work - A Dancer's Guide

When to start pointe work is a worry for parents. How can you tell if your daughter is strong enough to dance in ballet pointe shoes? Get her a specific dancer's guide for this.

There are specific requirements for beginning pointe work that teachers look for.

** Familiarity with correct technique. This results from the time spent in classes combined with the ability of a child to retain information and work hard without constant prompting.

** Muscle strength. The time required to develop this varies, and depends upon the number of classes per week, the child's other activities, musculoskeletal health and general health.

If you watched students in the regular class, and then watched them do the same movements in the pointe class, you should not see too much difference in the effort. If they struggle hard, fall hard off pointe, or clench the barre, then they are not ready to do pointe work.

Some smaller and younger children work better than their peers and could be strong enough to do basic pointe work. Children who learn quickly need to be challenged with new work. If their technique is precise they could work safely in a pointe class.

Teachers need to know their students. I think it takes a couple of years to watch children work, adjust to growth, handle the pressures of life, and observe which students are going to tackle new work with discipline and precision. Enthusiasm is not enough, and yet it is the motivating force for participating in an art like ballet.

I have taught children who were born to do ballet, physically, and yet did not have the powers of concentration to work safely without constant supervision. These students look good for a few years, but don't make the best or most reliable performers. And they don't necessarily fall in love with ballet. Many move on to easier hobbies.

If you have concerns about your child's readiness to do pointe work, and her teacher wants her to, ask exactly what qualifies your daughter to do pointe now. The teacher should be able to tell you something specific that makes sense.

Give your child an expertly designed dancer's guide about when to start pointe work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Dancer's Guide For Releasing Muscle Tension

Get your dancer's guide that teaches how releasing muscle tension every day, increases strength for dancing in pointe shoes.

If you have just started dancing in pointe shoes, or are preparing to, here is one thing you can do to strengthen your feet.

You use the floor as resistance in every tendu and degage you do.

You PRESS into the floor with the sole of your foot, every time you leave fifth or first position and stretch your foot into a tendu, degage, grande battement, or go through first in your ronde de jambe a terre.

You also PRESS through the metatarsals on to full pointe to the end of your tendu, degage or grande battement.

This will strengthen the sole of the foot, and the muscles under the metatarsals (toes) which will help you in pointe work.

It will also help you in jumps, lowering into a demi-plie with that cat-like quality, and avoid many injuries from landing well, when you are on a less-sprung floor.

It is important for you to realize that all your basic ballet work is preparation for your work in pointe shoes. Every small movement from a closed position to an open position is a chance to strengthen the sole of the foot. Pressure into the floor is like the resistance of a heavy weight. The harder you press, the heavier the weight.

Relaxing the foot muscles is important. You can roll your foot over a tennis ball, but better yet use a rubber ball that has a little give.

Here's a "pinkie ball" stretch I learned from material by Deborah Vogel about ballet stretches. With a soft rubber ball, kneel down on the floor and put the ball under one of your legs, under the shin. Let your weight press into the ball, move it down inch by inch, and it will relax the tibial muscles. Go all the way down to the ankle area, kneading and releasing muscle tension.

Then, put the ball under the top of the metatarsal area, and pressing into it, you will get a stretch down the top of the foot and over the ankle, increasing the curve of your point.

Remember, muscles are stronger and better toned when they get stretched properly, and relaxed fully, every day.

Pointe shoes make noise, so for that, among other reasons, the more control the better.

The upper body posture and control is part of all of this too - but the feet is where you meet the stage. I hope this helps.

For more exercises about how to release muscle tension, get yourself a dancer's guide.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ballet Shoes, Ballet Stretches, and Especially The Splits

Get the right information about effective stretching that leads to high leg extensions and split jetes, a featured attraction of ballet. If you were not born with long ligaments, muscles and tendons, what are the best ballet stretches for you?

Add this Essentrics Flexibility For Athletes to your ballet stretches!

While you spend strength on fighting your own tightness, striving for that effortlessness in your ballet shoes and pointe shoes, other very flexible dancers are trying to reign in their movements to maintain form and balance.

But, ballet being the way it is, they look better during the struggle than the tighter dancers.

Stretches after exercising are the best. After class, do the following:

Sitting on the floor, stretch the legs out in front to stretch the hamstrings – one at a time, bending one knee, so as not to stretch the lower back, flex and point the foot.

After slow stretching, I recommend completely relaxing the legs and letting the torso sink forward, with a few deep breaths, to release tension before going into a second position split.

Splits In Second Position

Splits in second position should be opened fully but WITHOUT pain. Ideally have your pelvis upright, and your knees facing the ceiling, with the backs of your thighs pressing into the floor.

This mimics the position your legs/spine would be in, in a standing position.

  • Don't tuck your hip bones under 
  • Don't sway your back and roll forward off your pelvic bone onto your thighs.
  • Bend sideways over one leg, relaxing neck, shoulders, face and arms.
  • Straighten up, and bend forward, hold the abdominals, and keep legs straight
  • Straighten up again and bend over the other leg, repeat all
You want a stretch but not to the point of any sharp pains. You are applying stress to the soft tissues, but never painful or sudden movements.

How To The Splits In One Day - Not!

 It disturbs me to see any instruction about one day splits. That's just unreal.

A full 180 degree splits depends on overall extreme flexibility.Meaning, muscle elasticity and joint flexibility. Joints are held by ligaments, which don't stretch.

If you can't sit in this position but can only get, for example, down to a few inches from the floor (or halfway or three-quarter way down) stretch one leg at a time.

Sit down and stretch one leg devant. Let the back leg bend. Keeping the front leg straight and turned out, pull forward slowly, and when you can't go any further, hold your lower abdominals and let your upper torso bend over.

Your weight will effect the stretch, breathe deeply a few times, for about 10 seconds, and then come back up to a straight position. Do this four times, and change legs.

There is lots of arguments among trainers as to how long one should hold a stretch. Just know it's not a pain endurance exercise. 

Next, bend the front leg into a 90 degree angle so you can lean forward over it, and extend the back leg to a straight position. It will probably slide sideways so that it will not be behind the hip as it would if you were standing up.

Slowly move upright, stretching the front of the hip, do NOT go to a point of pain. Stretching is DISCOMFORT, not pain. Lean forward releasing the tension, and turn your leg in. Then straighten up again, and you will feel the stretch in a different area.

Do this several times and change legs. Eventually your leg will stretch out more behind you.

Another great stretch is to do a side bend away from the derriere leg – you'll stretch from your thigh through your hip area up the side of your torso.

To finally relax, sit in a splits position with both legs bent. Bend forward right onto your front leg and let the weight of your torso press your hip, inner thigh and groin muscles into a relaxed stretch.

Then bend back, but in a relaxed manner. Breathe deeply a few times and change legs.

If you have any muscles or joints stinging and aching after classes, ice. Get a soft gel ice pack, and you can use it 15 minutes per hour. Make sure the ice pack is wrapped in a thin towel and does not touch your skin.

Another therapy is a hot bath with a cup of apple cider vinegar. This draws the lactic acid out of the muscles and is extremely relaxing. Epsom Salts are good too. You won't smell afterwards, honest.

If you are a retired dancer, or are on a hiatus from classes and miss that wonderful stretched out feeling, I highly recommend the Essentrics Flexibilty For Athletes DVD to get really flexible.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

To Dance or Not to Dance In Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes

 To dance is never a mistake.

I get asked a lot, "do you think I should pursue ballet professionally?" And my immediate thought is, "If you can live without dance, do so, if you cannot, then dance."

"Ballerina" by Vone Deporter
 I say that because ballet is a subculture. That is not a bad thing, but like opera, music, and other art forms, training is intense and competition is fierce. That may be the attraction for some.

Ballet attracts perfectionists, obsessed and oddly dysfunctional people, but also attracts incredibly gifted performers and brilliant broad-spectrum artists who excel at dance and related arts such as choreography, music and stage design.

Professional ballet has a small job market. Ideally you would start training at the age of 9, and be ready to perform in a company by 18. You would have been in about 8-10 classes per week, with some modern dance training as well.

Starting later, along with physical limitations, is the challenge for the majority. And yet, when I taught at university, I saw students go on to become leaders in the dance world.

Although, not in ballet, but in the modern dance arena, which emphasizes creativity somewhat more than the perfect technique and physique. I think the maturity of training at that age helps too, and I have seen a greater number of survivors from that venue.

Talented children with highly sensitive nervous systems have more problems with the competition. If they are studying away from home, they lack their family support. This can be very stressful for children. However, the demands of the training and the joy of learning what they love sometimes balances the stress beautifully.

To be extremely positive, let's just say all roads lead to our success. I have seen "failed" dancers develop into excellent musicians, brilliant actors, and choreographers with exceptional vision.

I once had a student who backed out of a performance in his first semester of training, due to sheer stage fright. He became a well-known innovator in the Canadian dance scene. The first time I saw a short piece of choreography of his in a small workshop setting, I knew where he was headed.

A world-famous prima ballerina was let go from a major dance school because of an eating disorder. She was immediately picked up and hand-held by a competing school. She just needed more personal support.

A well-known Canadian musician/conductor was once a struggling ballet student. He played piano at the school in order to pay for his classes. He wasn't a bad dancer, but started his professional training late.

The school's top pianist spotted his talent and supported his development as an accompanist. We were roommates for a while. Our third roommate was a flautist. Ahhh... well, anyway... good musical memories.

 I remember my heart soaring as Steve played the fourth act from Swan Lake from the Russian leather-bound score his mentor Babs MacDonald had given him, on a piano in our tiny apartment. He was born to dance in his soul, and became an excellent musician and conductor.

So if you are led to dance, dance! You never know where it will take you.

To dance is never a mistake.